Monday, December 18, 2017

Review: The Haunting Of Hill House – Shirley Jackson


The Haunting Of Hill House – Shirley Jackson



First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a "haunting"; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.



Review: I fell in love with Shirley Jackson’s short stories when I was in college, but her novels seem to get mixed reviews. A lot of people love her short fiction and feel “meh” about her longer work. I stumbled across a copy of The Haunting of Hill House at the used bookstore and decided to give it a try.

I guess I fall into the “meh” category. I like parts of this book, but it’s not as creepy as I hoped.

The story follows four people who come to a mansion called Hill House to investigate the paranormal activity that allegedly occurs there. The main character is Eleanor, a young woman who has spent most of her adult life caring for her dying mother and dealing with her overbearing sister. She thinks her trip to Hill House will give her a chance to become independent. At first, the ghost hunt is just a fun adventure with her new friends. Then things start to go wrong. The ghosts at Hill House refuse to let Eleanor leave.


“All I could think of when I got a look at the place from the outside was what fun it would be to stand out there and watch it burn down.” – The Haunting of Hill House



This book is a character-driven horror story. There are ghosts, but most of the tension comes from the relationships between the characters. Eleanor is very childlike, and the other characters treat her like a kid. This pisses her off because she just got away from her awful sister, who also treats her like a kid. She’s still figuring out what she wants to do with her life. She’s not as “adult” as other people her age, but she’s trying (mostly).

The house makes the conflicts worse by turning the characters against each other. Possessions are mysteriously destroyed, forcing the characters to share clothes and bedrooms. Strange writing appears on the walls, making the ghost hunters question if one of them is playing a prank. On the surface, everybody appears to get along, but there’s a simmering tension that runs through the relationships. The reader gets the sense that the characters could start hating each other at any moment.

The descriptions of the house are extremely well written. It’s easy to imagine this huge, creepy mansion with weird doors and staircases everywhere. It’s like a fictional version of the Winchester Mystery House in California.


“Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.” – The Haunting of Hill House



My problem with this novel is that there’s entirely too much talking. Most of the time, the characters aren’t even saying anything important. They’re just yapping at each other. It massively got on my nerves. I wanted them to stop talking about ghost hunting and actually go ghost hunting. You’re in a haunted mansion! Put down the alcohol, shut your traps, and do something interesting! I don’t have the patience for this.

My attention wandered often while reading this novel, but I like the ending. It makes the reader question if Eleanor is a reliable narrator. Is the house messing with her mind? Is she going insane? Has she always been insane? As the story progresses, Eleanor’s worst fears come true, and she starts identifying with the house more than with the people inside it. Is that the house’s fault, or Eleanor’s?


“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.” – The Haunting of Hill House



I was kind of disappointed with this book. I expected it to be creepier. I liked it enough that I’ll try some of Shirley Jackson’s other novels, but so far, I prefer her short stories.








17 comments:

  1. I remember when I read this years ago I didn't think it was as creepy as I thought it would be either. I just bought a book of short stories by this author which I hope will get me to love her as much as a lot of people do. I did love the house though and thought it was a great character is itself.

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    1. I’ve read a lot of Shirley Jackson’s short stories. I think I like them more than her novels.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  2. Ah sorry this was a disappointment for you. Hope her other reads are better for you.

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  3. If I was wealthy, I would definitely have a house with secret corridors and hidden doors and all that awesomeness.

    Is the book not creepy or is it just old and the standard has changed? Jaws was a really scary movie when it came out. Now it's like - yeah, whatever.

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    1. I would totally have hidden doors in my house. Probably the standards of “scariness” have changed. I never find classic horror books scary. This one had way too much talking to be scary. It didn’t feel like the characters were actually doing anything.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

      Delete
  4. I used to always want to read this book but have always put it off because everyone I know who has read it has been kind of 'meh' in their reaction. I'm thinking I may just skip it now. It's not like I don't have plenty of other books waiting for me to read them. Thanks for the honest review!

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    1. I read it because I’m trying to read more classic horror, but if you’re not obsessive about reading the classics, then it’s probably skippable.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

      Delete
  5. Sorry to hear this didn't deliver the creep factor. I recall having to read this one in high school and (granted, that was many years ago) but I don't recall being wowed by it. It seemed like we all (the class) expected a scary book and it just... wasn't. Meh.
    Tanya @ Girl Plus Books

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    1. Yeah, it definitely wasn’t what I expected. Too much talking, not enough ghosts.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  6. This sounds interesting and I need a 1950s book for my decade challenge, but I think the chatting would annoy me too!

    Stephanie Jane @ Literary Flits

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  7. I started this one years ago but couldn't get into it.

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  8. I actually avoided this one for years because I thought it would be TOO creepy. I think it's more of a psychological study than a horror tale, which suited me fine. But I can see why it would be "meh" for readers who are expecting something else.

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    1. Yes! I went in expecting a horror story, but it is more of a character study.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

      Delete
  9. I just added this book to my TBR recently - I plan to wait until Halloween, but I might start it earlier because that is a long wait! I am sorry it did not meet your expectations.

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  10. This sounded like a great spooky read. I am sad to see that you didn't really enjoy it. Thanks for sharing your honest opinion about it.

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